Tracy Teale, CPA, Audit Partner and San Francisco Office Head.
Tracy TealeCPA / CFO / A&A Department Head / San Francisco Office Headview bio

Six Ways Nonprofits Can Engage with Millennials

Millennials considering which charity to give to


Many not-for-profits ignore millennials because they have done well relying on Generation X and the Baby Boomers to provide them with consistent donations. But as the legendary Sam Cooke sang, “A Change is Gonna Come” and the millennials are the future of your organization.
It’s time for nonprofits who have not thought about it, to start implementing a millennial engagement strategy. The millennial generation has a lot to offer, shares a deep commitment to building a better world and according to a new survey, they are the most generous donors with 55% planning to give at least $500 in 2021, followed by Gen X (44%), Gen Z (33%) and Baby Boomers (26%).
Who’s a Millennial?
Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 25 to 40 in 2021) is considered a Millennial.
Millennials, otherwise known as Gen Y, are out of college, entering the workforce and starting families. Numbering roughly 80 million, they’re part of the largest generation in U.S. history and they are poised to shape philanthropy for decades to come.
According to a recent report from Coldwell Banker, in 2030, millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they have today, and are expected to inherit over $68 trillion from their predecessors in the Great Transfer of Wealth. 
The founder of the Millennial Impact Study, Derrick Feldmann, put it succinctly: “Together, millennials and nonprofits can create solutions. But, if we as nonprofit entities won’t adjust to their needs, millennials – our new and future constituents –will move on without us.”
Millennials givingHere are six ways you can get millennials involved with your cause:

  1. Gain their confidence – Don’t assume that a pledge form or broad platform will attract millennials. In fact, this generation is more skeptical of big businesses, corporations, and nonprofits than any other generation.

    Your nonprofit needs to gain the confidence of millennials by demonstrating the impact of your work.

    A study conducted by the Millennial Impact Project says, “78% of millennials are “very likely or somewhat likely to stop donating if they didn’t know how the donation was making an impact and 90% of donors would stop giving if they do not trust an organization”.
  2. Connect online – for millennials, technology is a part of everyday life. They grew up using smartphones and tablets and are accustomed to a routine that is always “on” and where information is always readily available. The Internet usually via their phone is the way they connect with friends, family, businesses, and nonprofits. This means that you need to put considerable effort into staying active on social media and keeping your website up-to-date and optimized for mobile capability.
  3. Share content with substance – You can show your impact and gain millennials confidence by creating content that highlights the importance of your organization’s work in the form of videos or personal stories. You can find an excellent guide to nonprofit marketing here.

    According to the Millennial Impact Project, millennials are impulsive donors – they give when they feel inspired with 42% reporting that they donate to whatever inspires them at the moment. Often a good solution is a story or visual that evokes emotion and ends with a statement that encourages the audience to take immediate action.
  4. Be authentic – millennials are very marketing savvy, especially online. They know when they are being sold – they grew up fast-forwarding commercials and ignoring print publications with traditional ads.

    They want to hear from their friends – not a brand. In fact, in a study by the McCarthy Group, 84% of millennials said that they didn’t like or trust traditional marketing efforts. They want to engage on their own terms and are more likely to respond to social media influencers and short videos of real people. In short, you need to make your nonprofit’s message part of the conversation that millennials are already having.
  5. Offer volunteer options – of course, nonprofits have had to adjust their volunteer options due to the pandemic, but, they should be aware that in a survey conducted by Fidelity Charitable, the vast majority (90%) of millennials said they value charities with meaningful volunteer opportunities, with more than half indicating that they view volunteer work as an opportunity to gain new skills. By contrast, just one-third of Generation X and one-fifth of baby boomers view volunteering as an opportunity to pick up skills.

    Asking millennials for their support to fill volunteer positions is a great way to begin building relationships.
  6. Incentivize Giving – growing up online – millennials love a good incentive. According to the Millennial Impact Report, this generation is highly motivated by name recognition and prizes in exchange for a donation. Here are two ways that a nonprofit can incentivize giving:
  • Gift Matching – let your donors know if their donation will be matched, either by an employer or another donor. It always works for me on NPR. A leveraged gift provides a substantial incentive for giving, and 69% of millennials said that they would be more likely to give if they know their employer matched their donation.
  • Tangible incentives – Provide reasons for younger donors to give at a certain level, but not necessarily something that your nonprofit has to spend money on. For example, a special invite only online talk or concert. Or, when we return to the office, host quarterly networking events to bring millennial donors that give $100 or more annually. Everyone appreciates a shoutout on social media, special recognition, or access to an invite only event.

Millennial donating with a credit cardMillennials will soon emerge as the richest generation in history and will be essential to your nonprofit’s long-term sustainability.

It is imperative that you revise your strategies to align with the traits that millennials are looking for and if you begin adapting the six ways mentioned above to attract millennials, you will be on your way to increasing your reach to this generous generation.

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